A breakthrough in an otherwise sudden death condition

-Written by Rahul Mody

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently conducted tests on mice using experimental drug therapy that seems to have protected them against a deadly rupture of major blood vessels in the abdomen. This new breakthrough could prove to be extremely beneficial in Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) treatment where physicians were forced to wait till the smaller aneurysms got big enough for surgical intervention.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is an inflammatory, progressive vascular condition. Earlier detection and treatment are always better ways of management and so, further experimentation on this drug could revolutionize AAA treatment for hundreds of thousands.

Image from White Square Vascular Surgery depicting difference in aorta normally and abdominal aortic aneurysm

According to Lederle, Johnson, et.al. (1997[1]), AAA is associated with male gender, advanced age, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, and cigarette smoking. It has made its mark in the western world with an annual incidence of approximately 0.4-0.67%. This equates to about 2.5-6.5 aneurysms per 1000 people per year (Forsdahl, Singh, et.al., 2009[2]). In the U.S. alone, it accounts for approximately 15,000 deaths annually with around 200,000 diagnosed with the condition. Currently, open surgical repair of larger AAA’s are the only effective option to prevent sudden death due to rupture. This indicates a high mortality rate due to the severity of the condition.

In the article published to the Biomaterials Advances journal, the researchers made use of nano-particles to deliver anti-inflammatory products to the inflamed blood vessels. This nano-particle comes from a fragment of Melittin protein and had been primed to be able to carry the anti- inflammatory products. These products are said to be small interfering RNA (siRNA) and seem to form a complex with the modified Melittin. When it was introduced into the mice, it was found to accumulate in inflamed tissue. The siRNA seemed to suppress inflammation by interfering with inflammatory protein, NF-kappaB, expression. Specifically, the siRNA was primed to target two subunits of NF-kappa B: p50 and p65. The study found that suppressing p50 did not exactly stop the progression of the aneurysms. However, there was a significant increase in the mice’s survival rate, from 53% up to 85%. On the other hand, suppression of p65 did not have a very significant significant effect.

Image by Huimin Yan
Description: Nanoparticles (red) are taken up by immune cells (green with blue nuclei).

Although the technology is still being tested, Pham, the Washington University site lead, claims that their next area of interest would be for rheumatoid arthritis. Now that they have the approval for the technology of AAA treatment, they wish to use this momentum to treat more widespread conditions. This discovery is truly a breakthrough in the world of aneurysms. A situation where doctors could only sit and watch as the condition progresses before they could really make an attempt at treatment. Previous immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory techniques were found to be futile and so, this discovery only sets in motion an era of more in-depth research and developments using advanced technology. The potential for growth is forever immense and reaching “idealistic medicinal practice” remains open to more research as well.

As Carl Sagan once said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”


  1. F.A. Lederle, G.R. Johnson, S.E. Wilson, E.P. Chute, F.N. Littooy, D. Bandyk, W.C. Krupski,
    G.W. Barone, C.W. Acher, D.J. Ballard Prevalence and associations of abdominal aortic aneurysm detected through screening. Aneurysm detection and management (ADAM) veterans affairs cooperative study group Ann. Intern. Med., 126 (6) (1997), pp. 441-449
  2. Forsdahl SH, Singh K, Solberg S, Jacobsen BKRisk factors for abdominal aortic aneurysms: a 7-year prospective study: the TromsøStudy. Circulation. 2009;119(16):2202. Epub 2009 Apr 13.

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